In the end, it was the cold stretch that did it, really.
Isn’t it always?
Michigan led Florida by 15 after an 11-0 run to begin the second half. Florida fought back to make that a seven-point edge with an 11-3 run of its own, and trailed by just seven at the 8:58 mark, after KeVaughn Allen made his debut in the box score.
Michigan’s Isaiah Livers took the Wolverines into the under-eight timeout up nine with a drive that could have been a turnover or a travel, then hit the and-one free throw after it to push the lead to 10. But Allen responded with a three.
And then Florida went cold.
Allen’s three came at the 7:23 mark. Florida’s next points came on an Andrew Nembhard layup at the 1:44 mark. In between, Florida went turnover, turnover, miss, miss, miss, miss, turnover, miss.
And so Michigan, which scored just nine points over that stretch, won the game, which ended at 64-49 because college basketball games last for 40 minutes. Florida played gamely for as many of those minutes as it could, but that number, against this great team — like in more than a few other games against great teams this year — was fewer than 40.
Allen’s good minutes came late, as all eight of his points were 80 percent of Florida’s output in that last 8:58. Jalen Hudson’s came early in both halves, as he scored all 11 of his points in the first eight minutes of each half, then didn’t score again. Keyontae Johnson’s were quiet, in a five-point outing; Noah Locke’s, which resulted in eight points off the bench, were not particularly loud.
Andrew Nembhard’s good minutes came before he sputtered late, committing four turnovers and finishing 2-for-7 from the field to mar a seven-point, eight-assist performance. Kevarrius Hayes’s came after a brutal start, and in an eight-point, seven-rebound showing that was appropriately understated for the forever underrated big.
But Michigan got a loud 19 points from Jordan Poole, and nines in three columns — points, rebounds, and assists — from bulldog point guard Zavier Simpson, and strangled Florida on the defensive end in the second half, allowing just three threes after six in the first half had the Gators within four at halftime.
In another game against a team with the talent and temperament to play for a title, Florida looked for stretches like it belonged on level footing. And in another game in which Florida looked for stretches like it belonged on level footing with a great team, that team stood taller than these Gators for longer, leaving no doubt at game’s end which team was champ and which just contender.
Florida may yet make itself into a champion under Mike White, like it did after feinting and faltering at that status so many times in the early years of the Billy Donovan era. It has made a fine start over White’s four seasons, which have been largely played without the talent Donovan had on hand early; next fall, White may have his most talented team yet.
And next fall, Florida will be expected to stand and trade with teams like Michigan more often, and even score some knockouts.
But this season? These Gators didn’t have enough pop in the glove for the knockouts, didn’t have enough juice in the legs to weave for 12 rounds, and didn’t have the sense to fall when their jaws got tapped — or stay down when they got floored.
And so they will go down as fighters who were only so good, champions of nothing but some fond hearts.
There have been some good movies made about fighters like that, even if this team will not be immortalized as thus.